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Nine islanders killed as Montserrat erupts

Jan 1, 2003

A volcano on the Caribbean island of Montserrat that has been smoldering for two years erupted in June, killing at least nine people and leaving 14 others missing amid smoke and ash.

Yacht skippers keeping their boats at nearby islands were concerned about possible tsunami effects from the eruption. However, there were no reports of higher-than-normal wave action. "The sky was blocked out for a day from the ash, though," said Herman Sargent, an official with the Chief Minister's Office Media Center in Montserrat.

Pyroclastic flows, hot rocks coming from the volcano that can travel at 200 mph, blazed down the side of the Soufriere Hills volcano on June 25, covering several towns that had been officially evacuated. Several residents had remained, however, and were subsequently smothered in the flows and burning ash clouds that buried the villages.

Besides spewing 200 million cubic feet of material into the air and down hillsides at a rate of 10 cubic feet per second, the volcano added 300 feet to its height. "The volcano used to be 3,000 feet high and now it's 3,300 feet," said Karney Osborne of the Montserrat Volcano Observatory.

While several towns remained undisturbed by the pyroclastic flows, many of the residents of the 39-square-mile island chose to evacuate to Antigua and Guadeloupe. Since the airport was closed, only helicopters and boats could be used to transport people from the island.


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